“Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails andmy hand in his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25b)
Anyone who thinks that a ZOOM meeting or a Facebook Live worship service is a totally adequate substitute for being together physically hasn’t seen enough video clips of grandparent-grandchild reunions following this long, dark winter of Covid. You know the ones I mean? ‘Where the little child is completely surprised by the re-appearance of Grandma or Pappy after six, nine, twelve months of complete isolation and absence due to the pandemic. The leap into the adult’s arms, the prolonged hug, the flowing tears – it gets me every time (!) – and reminds me of the sacrament of touch.
Admittedly, I have had my five-year-old granddaughter on my lap, or at my dinner table, or have been at her bedside two-or-three times a week since the start of social distancing; my soul would have died, had it been otherwise. These video clips remind me of how blessed we have been in my household – and they challenge me (in an age of increasing social media, now in the church) never to forget the spiritual power of what Peter Marty calls “intimacy, proximity, and personal presence.” (Christian Century magazine, 3-24-21)
My preaching professor at Duke back in the ‘80’s – now old, like me, and in retirement – laments the loss of some traditional elements of dramatic worship in Holy Week. “How can we virtually reproduce the ‘night’ that swallows up Judas?” he asks. “In my boyhood church, we took turns reading the Passion narrative in the darkness [of the sanctuary]. Somber. Quiet. Then at the words, ‘He breathed his last,’ someone would slam a Bible shut. Bang! That doesn’t work well on ZOOM.”
Sacred space and pastoral touch matter to much of what we do in the church. Peter Marty records how in recent days “….we’ve seen scores of people moved to tears just re-entering sacred spaces that have shaped their spiritual and emotional being” over the years. The classic Easter scene at the conclusion of the original ending of John reveals Jesus’ appearance in the house where the disciples had met before (v. 19) – familiarity! – and teaches us that, like Thomas, much of our own faith-development results from the sensual nature of our eyes and our hands.
We shouldn’t forget that the church stands or falls with the doctrine of incarnation. “Jesus drew near to them,” scriptures report. (ibid, p. 3) I pray that the post-pandemic Church, with its new-found technologies, will indeed bring to faith and spiritual blessing MANY who have not seen (v. 29) in previous, traditional ways and means. But I also look forward to the reunions in our sanctuaries, and to the prolonged hugs.